From the minute he was arrested in 1969 until the moment he took his last breath, Charles Manson spent his life in prison.
The drug crazed lunatic and guru whose followers killed and ruined so many lives, got exactly what he deserved — life in prison.
Nearly his entire life was spent in prison, except for his early years marked by theft, violence, drug and sex crazed actions and murder.
He and his followers were a sorry bunch then and remain a sorrier bunch today — those still alive to recall the day and year they either acted alone or conspired to kill 7 people.
He was in his early 30’s when this occurred in 1969. He was the leader of the Manson Family, a group of young, deranged, drug and sex fueled hangers on to the tattered fringe of the Summer of Love generation during the heyday of the social revolution and the anti-war movement.
He was the leader of the group and he paid for it with life in prison.
Perhaps we don’t fully understand what life in prison is.
Understand that Charles Manson never saw the light of day outside a prison since 1969 until he died this week.
That’s five decades in prison — enough to kill the soul of anyone having to spend such an existence after masterminding such gruesome murders.
The courtroom antics of Manson and his followers captured front-page headlines. At one point, Manson carved an X into his forehead, which years later he turned into a swastika. Some of his followers held vigils outside the courthouse. In March 1971, the jury sentenced each of the four defendants to death. Manson reportedly shouted to jurors: “You people have no authority over me.” Three months later, Manson follower Charles “Tex” Watson went to trial. He was found guilty of seven counts of first-degree murder and sentenced to death.
The defendants’ sentences were commuted to life in prison in 1972, when the U.S. Supreme Court temporarily banned the death penalty.
Manson was denied parole a dozen times during his decades of incarceration. He didn’t bother to attend his most recent hearing, in April 2012. The public’s fascination with the notorious killer endured, with Manson’s likeness plastered on T-shirts and featured in comic books. His story was told countless times in books and true-crime TV shows. He was featured in movies and documentaries, including two made-for-television dramatizations of his crimes. Songs written by Manson have been sung by several hard-rock bands. Singer Brian Hugh Warner, who goes by the stage moniker Marilyn Manson, reportedly created his name by combining Manson’s last name with the first name of actress Marilyn Monroe.
In the beginning of his life and until the murders in California that shocked the world of this era now so much a part of a fading past, Manon was just another bum, a degenerate con man, a drug fueled, sex-crazed lunatic parading around as a God or as Satan.
His life sentence was a near to life sentence for all of us who watched Manson growing older and crazier through the decades until he finally died miserable and alone.
He is gone. Our lives are not gone but we are getting there.
He was our life sentence.
Vincent Bugliosi, the prosecutor that came to be known by so many of us coming of age during Manson’s trial died before Manson in 2015 at the age of 80.
He wrote the book Helter Skelter after Manson went to prison. It was a best seller — a very good description of the trial and the times and of Manson, who he said should die.
“Manson should have been executed,” Bugliosi said during an interview with Time in 2009. “I told the jury, if this was not the proper case for the imposition of the death penalty, then no case ever would be. Manson did not deserve to live,” he said.
The following are the lyrics to the Beatle’s “Helter Skelter,” which the Manson killers wrote in blood from those they killed on the walls in the home where the murders were committed.
That song and those lyrics defined that moment when all of us were young, including Manson:
When I get to the bottom
I go back to the top of the slide
An’ I stop, an’ I turn, an’ I go for a ride
Til I get to the bottom
An’ I see you again
Do you, don’t you, want me to love you?
I’m comin’ down fast, but I’m miles above you
Tell me, tell me, tell me
Come on, tell me the answer
Well, you may be a lover but you ain’t no dancer
Helter Skelter, Yeh…